It's been a year and a half since I was baptized into this Church. It's been an internally tumultuous journey for me to come into this church so late in my life with a lifetime of experiences, spiritual connections. I think I've examined so much literature dealing with the historicity of the Church, examined the online material of so many of those who are or have become disaffected with their membership in the Church upon learning of historical events, shared with them in their grieving for their loss, and I became convinced it was unlikely I could fully become a part of this Church. I was content to carve out a space for myself in empathy, support for the many that also must carve out a non-traditional space for themselves in the context of the Church.
Until this past Sunday, when I for the first time conveyed my 'testimony' because I could in great part because of this Sunstone article written and/or contributed by David Knowlton in April 1991. As I've heard repeatedly throughout the past two decades this business of a testimony is a huge element of the LDS Church faith. And as I've heard the acts of giving testimony primarily in the Ward where currently attend, it goes something like this:
'I'd like to bear my testimony that I know this Church is true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that this is the restored church on the earth -- and sometimes there will be an add on variance that might include atonement (ending with In the name of Jesus Christ)"
These are not words that I can say easily as they are not my core beliefs. Therefore I have acknowledged aloud repeatedly that I have a non-traditional 'testimony', and so the members know that I am working on gaining a testimony. I think I already have one, it just won't sound like the words the members at my Ward are used to hearing. It's one of those elements that I recognize is important to the membership, and yet I do not appreciate in fullness what is meant by having a testimony from their perspectives. For me what I have to say as my testimony works, and yet I somehow understand that it doesn't work for the membership, who simply politely let me struggle with the concept.
A year and a half later, upon reading the David Knowlton article; 'Belief, Metaphor, and Rhetoric: The Mormon Practice of Bearing Testimony Bearing' it brought light for me in the matter of how Mormons have and share their personal testimony. I came to understand that the act of it is so much more significant to the person bearing testimony and those hearing it than the words can begin to convey. My take away was a nodding of my head saying to myself - I understand - and thank you David Knowlton for taking the time to think this through and write the article.
What I understand is that while indeed this is a ritualistic practice which I recognized and wondered how it came to be that the Church teaches they do not practice ritual as a kind of a protest against the other churches that do practice rituals when in fact they do practice a form of ritual - just different than other churches. In the absence of rituals as for example in the Liturgy of the Episcopal and Catholic Church, or the coming forth to be saved in some of the Protestant churches, the bearing of the testimony is in effect that salvific moment of feeling the Spirit, the presence of God in self, the emotional connection. That I can and do understand, respect, value, appreciate. And with that I could finally release myself from being hung up on the words and relate instead to the ritualistic feeling level of how Mormons bear testimony.
Wanting to hold to my own integrity as to my actual beliefs, I have struggled with the words typically used by people in sharing their testimony. No I do not believe with heart and soul that this is the one true church. I believe it is a true church inasmuch as many paths up the mountain is a truism and other churches/religions see themselves as just such a path - a path to Divine, to Creator, to God, to Great Spirit, to Heavenly Father. And for me to the Beloved....that being my word of choice for the deep connection I feel to Jesus born of adversity in my young child years when no one or no religion was there to define for me what my feeling of Jesus was or is now.
I do know that Joseph Smith founded this church, that he was viewed as a prophet in his time, that he viewed himself in that light, that members viewed him in that light then as do many now. I have read of his history via the non-accepted and accepted literature. I needed to know who this man was, what was compelling about him, about the church he founded to get a better understanding of why this church prevailed when other churches of the time dissolved. I can say that I do believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, relative to his era and time period of the 19th century Reformation period of religion. I can say I value his reasons for coming to the beliefs he had and shared. I can say I value his personal history growing up and in his early marriage, the losses of death he experienced with his brother, with his children. I can say that he remains an enigma to me in that no matter who is doing the describing of who he was, what his actions were, he was all of those things and more, making him not a saint or sainted in his contributions or as much a saint as saints were made.
I do not know that Jesus died and was resurrected and gave us atonement or entry to cleanse ourselves of a supposed sin of the falling of Adam and Eve. I do not know even that Jesus as described in the New Testament gospel lived and walked among mankind. I do however, know of Jesus, as Jesus came to me in my young years and have spent a lifetime looking at religion to try to fill in the definitions of what it means for Jesus to be Jesus. Sometimes it was satisfying, sometimes I harnessed those definitions as my own, sometimes I was heartbroken to learn that perhaps none of it was true and was part of a mythology (the overarching story of a culture's attempt to explain to itself). I will never know in a true sense of the word know, and I'm content with not knowing as much as I yearn for the beauty in my internal imaging of Jesus to be a truism. And if not, it is an internal imaging of beauty for me, by which I can hang my star, guide my ship, walk my walk.
I do not know that there needs to be a true church as much as in the 19th century period, many Protestant religions formed in opposition to the Catholic Church of that period, desiring that they were the true church, had a truth no other churches had, uncovered truths not yet known or exposed, walked the path of early Christianity, the primitive church, had personal access directly and without intercessory intervention. Had my young child self required intercessory intervention to know Jesus, I would not have had the friend I so needed and had to have in Jesus to withstand the adversity in which I found myself within my earthly family.
In deep respect then for what a testimony means to Mormons, and the heartfelt emotion they feel in bearing testimony, I can say in truthfulness and honesty that I have a testimony of this church. And I can do that in great thanks to the elucidation that David Knowlton provided for me in wrapping up a lot of my own thoughts into a reflective format that says what I lacked the words to say yet felt at my intuitive level to be truths.